Michael and Bonnie Meyers of Marshfield, Massachusetts, bought a second camp in Aroostook County when they were on furlough from their Boston-area jobs during the pandemic. For two months, they worked on the fixer-upper located on an island in Drew’s Lake. Photo courtesy of Michael Meyers

Mark and Melissa Gillis had been planning for several years to retire early and move to a remote location where they could live off the grid. The coronavirus pandemic moved their timeline up.

A month ago the New Jersey couple purchased an off-the-grid log camp on 30 acres in northern Maine. Now they plan to move to Aroostook County in June. They are part of a growing legion of remote camp buyers who have shopped in northern Maine during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would say the pandemic probably made us jump a little quicker,” Mark Gillis said. “As the pandemic down here peaked, I can’t tell you how many times we said if we had a camp at this point, we’d be gone up there. I think the pandemic made it even more of a point that we want to be alone.”

Sales of camps in northern Maine jumped by nearly 30 percent over the past year through Sept. 30, according to the Maine Association of Realtors. The uptick occurred mostly in July and August, because real estate sales across the board were down from April through June, according to Suzanne Guild, chief executive officer of the Maine Association of Realtors.

A camp is often considered a primitive cabin on a lake – and many are in remote locations with no electricity. Whether a lake home with electricity is listed as a camp by the realtors’ association depends on how the seller categorizes it. However, several northern Maine realtors reported selling many primitive, off-the-grid cabins this year.

That is precisely what the Gillises wanted when they decided the time had come to leave New Jersey.

“We want to be away from our neighbors. It’s nice having neighbors, but not as close as they are in New Jersey or New York,” Mark Gillis said. “We were looking for at least 20 acres. This is 30 acres and borders Canada. Our neighbor is a farmer. It’s a dream come true.”

Northern Maine realtors reported a rise in interest in camps this year among both in-state and out-of-state buyers.

“There is nothing up here left (in inventory), let’s put it that way,” said David Dunn at Moose County Realtors in Greenville. “We’re getting calls at the office every day, an awful lot from out of state. I do believe people want to be where there are less people, they want to get away from the crowded areas.”

Many Maine camps are small, off-the-grid cabins in remote locations, but not all of them. This camp in Seboeis Plantation in Penobscot County is part of a family compound that comes with a generator building on South Branch Lake. Photo courtesy of North Woods Real Estate

At North Woods Real Estate in Millinocket, Dan Corcoran said for the past few years camps in the Katahdin region were selling better because of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which opened in 2016. But this year, more people than ever are calling his office. Corcoran thinks part of the spike in interest is because more people are working from home as a result of the pandemic, and no longer tied to an office building.

“We’ve seen an increase in interest in people wanting to find remote, less-populated areas to get away. I’ve had calls from Oregon, California and Colorado. With several of the people we’re dealing with now, they’re looking at being up here months at a time,” Corcoran said.

The biggest question realtors hear, they say, is about internet connectivity. Corcoran said an increasing number of camp buyers are fine with no electricity if they can access the internet and work from camp using solar panels and generators.

“The first question is always – tell me about the broadband,” said Andy Mooers of Mooers Real Estate in Houlton.

Michael and Bonnie Meyers worked on the fixer-upper camp they bought on an island in Drew’s Lake in Aroostook County for two months this summer. Photo courtesy of Michael Meyers

Camps generally run around $100,000 on up, although some fixer-uppers can be found for less. Mooers said some buyers are choosing to purchase land to build a simple log cabin. He said eight acres with lake frontage in Aroostook County can cost as little as $35,000.

“Why so low? Well it’s seven hours beyond Kittery,” Mooers said. “That’s always been the drawback to northern Maine. But, what if you brought your job here with you? COVID has made that case that much stronger.”

Because of the pandemic, Michael and Bonnie Meyers bought a second camp on Drew’s Lake outside of Houlton, near where they bought their first camp five years ago. Where they live on Boston’s south shore in Marshfield, Michael Meyers said you can practically shake your neighbors hand through the window.

Michael and Bonnie were on furlough from their jobs earlier this year and decided to live at their camp on Drew’s Lake. When the price dropped from $109,000 to $65,000 for a 1950s fixer-upper camp located on an island in the lake, the Meyers jumped at the chance to own it. The island camp needed a lot of work, but Michael took on the project, working on the second camp over two months.

“Without the pandemic, we’d still be working in the city and wouldn’t have had the time there to clean it out. Without the pandemic, we wouldn’t have the island now,” said Meyers, who works as an electrician in Boston.

Meyers thinks his Boston-area neighbors also dream of owning a remote camp in Maine – but not everyone is in a position to buy a camp, let alone a second one.

“I believe people are nervous of what will happen with the economy,” he said. “I’m sure people want to get away from the crowds. I felt a lot safer when we were in northern Maine than down here. The (COVID-19) cases in Massachusetts are a lot higher than Maine – especially than in northern Maine.”


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